It was at 2100 UT last night that the monohull equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild crossed the equator and led the fleet into the southern Atlantic. Loïck Peyron accompanied this passage with a nocturnal video as well as partly respecting a customary ritual: “We're beginning to make headway upside down! It's not the first time that I've passed the imaginary line but I've tried to respect the tradition of offering something to Neptune nonetheless.” A fizzy drink served as a liquid substitute, given the lack of wine or champagne flowing across Gitana Eighty's decks.
The group of ten at the front, led by Loïck Peyron, are now sailing in the southern hemisphere and the solo sailors are prepared for a few days wedged onto port tack in the SE'ly tradewinds: “There is currently 15 knots of wind and Gitana Eighty is fully stacked, ready for the long stretch of close-hauled sailing coming up. It's slamming a bit but there's not a lot you can do so it's doubtless going to be a relaxing weekend…” admitted the sailor La Baule. However, in order that we aren't misled by this notion, though the coming days are forecast to favour recuperation, attention will still be a top priority… Indeed, the complexity of the latest generation 60 foot Imocas and the shifting strength of the wind along the course will require the presence of the skipper on deck.
It's a round number… it's been ten days that Loïck Peyron and Gitana Eighty have been skipping along in the lead of the Vendée Globe 2008-2009. Still credited with a lead of 24.4 and 38.7 miles over Sébastien Josse and Jean-Pierre Dick, in second and third place respectively, the frontrunners are managing to fend off their closest attackers. Questioned about his ‘outrageous supremacy' during the daily link-up with the Race HQ, the sailor contested the expression used: “It's not outrageous and sorry if some of you are tired of it… But without something you have nothing, and it doesn't feel like I've eased off the pace since the start! The Vendée Globe is a race where things will be won or lost in the detail. That's why you have to constantly keep your eye on all the detail. Today, all's going well, I'm controlling. What comes as a satisfaction to me, is that when I want to go a bit faster than my friends, I'm managing to do that.” After 13 days at sea, the duo Loïck Peyron / Gitana Eighty, who had already proven their worth by winning the two solo transatlantic races contested over the past year, is working amazingly well, in perfect osmosis.
As regards the weather, an observation of the satellite images supplied by Météo France confirms a slightly confused situation across the southern Atlantic. This begins with the Saint Helena High, which is usually more stable than its equivalent in the northern hemisphere – the Azores High -, but seemingly wants to complicate the solo sailors' entry into the Deep South. The reason for this is a stormy low coming off Brazilian soil and dying in the system of high pressure, disrupting the latter in the process. Then, a second anticyclone, positioned off Uruguay, is pushing the disturbed air flow far off to the south, which may well complicate things a bit more for the leading group.
Finally, if we glance behind the monohull in the colours of the LCF Rothschild Group, we can see that the chasing pack, led by the Swiss sailor Dominique Wavre, were luckier than the frontrunners as they weren't slowed by the Doldrums at all. Behind them though, the weather barrier is proving to be slightly more stubborn, which confirms that in the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, it's the weather alone which decides how its guests are treated.
Ranking on Saturday 22nd November – 1600 hours (French time)
1. Gitana Eighty (Loïck Peyron) 20,562 miles from the finish
2. BT (Sébastien Josse) 24.4 miles behind the leader
3. Paprec Virbac (Jean-Pierre Dick) 36.7 miles
4. PRB (Vincent Riou) 48.5 miles
5. Brit Air (Armel Le Cléac'h) 52.5 miles